Gennadi Moiseev showed that Soviet motocross was competitive when he won three world 250cc championships in 1974, '77 and '78 and led his team to the Motocross des Nations world championship in 1978.
Moiseev rode a KTM, an Austrian make, but when friction developed between the KTM factory and the Soviet cycling federation in 1979, Soviet racing took a nosedive.
"The interest in motocross has been there, and the desire, but without new equipment or new parts for the old equipment, there was nothing we could do," Moiseev said Wednesday through interpreter Anna Borjeson.
"I won my last Grand Prix in 1979 in Bulgaria, but the trouble started right after that between KTM and the federation."
Moiseev, who won 14 world championship motos, remains a national sports hero in the Soviet Union. When he rode in his final Grand Prix in his hometown of Leningrad, the event drew more than 200,000 spectators.
Now, as a result of glasnost and perestroika , Moiseev is in Southern California with two of the Soviet Union's leading riders, Viesturs Gaushis of Latvia and Andres Krestinov of Estonia, who are entered in the 500cc Motul U.S. Grand Prix of Motocross Aug. 25-26 at Glen Helen Park in San Bernardino. They will ride Hondas provided by the U. S. distributor.
Roger DeCoster, former five-time world champion and promoter of the 500cc event, is also coach of the American Honda team, which includes Supercross champion Jeff Stanton and former multinational champion Rick Johnson.
Gaushis, a lookalike for tennis star Boris Becker, won the Soviet championship in 1987 but was not permitted to ride internationally because he was from Latvia.
"No riders from the Baltic States were selected to ride on the Soviet national team the last few years," said George Mazo, who with Moiseev has formed an organization called Cross to promote and develop Soviet motocross, both amateur and professional. Moiseev is chairman of the board, Mazo the managing director.
"Our first objective is to get some good equipment and establish a relationship with the Japanese manufacturers," Mazo said. "Motocross is the No. 1 sport in the western Soviet Union, especially the Baltic States, where there are cycle clubs in every little town. Most people ride a motorcycle as their transportation, so they enjoy racing them, too.
"The citizens in that region are also influenced by TV from Finland, which shows many European motorcycle events. There are thousands of potential racers, if only we could get something worth riding."
Most Soviets ride a Czechoslovakian-made CZ, which was DeCoster's bike when he first began racing in his native Belgium. But the evolution of Japanese bikes such as Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki in the past 20 years has made the CZ all but obsolete in competition. The last time a non-Japanese bike won the 500cc championship was 1974, when Heikki Mikkola of Finland rode a Husqvarna.
"We are hoping that the race here will give our two best riders a taste of Grand Prix racing and start getting them ready to race the full season next year," Moiseev said. "We want to return the Soviet Union to the world championship circuit and plan to bid for a race in 1992 for Leningrad."
Moiseev has ridden twice in the United States, in world 250cc Grand Prix events at Unadilla, N.Y., finishing sixth and third, but did not ride in the 500cc races in Carlsbad, where the world championship was contested between 1973 and '86.
Even though the world has been opened up for Soviet riders, it is still difficult for them to travel aboard.
"Moiseev and the riders could not purchase tickets to Los Angeles because there was no way to do it," explained Arne Larsson, a Swedish businessman who is acting as liaison between Cross and American race officials and cycle manufacturers. "The tickets had to be purchased here and sent to them in the Soviet Union. Even so, they could not fly direct. It took 30 hours and four changes of planes, first from Moscow to Ireland, then Ireland to Cuba and Cuba to Mexico City and Mexico City to Los Angeles."
Gaushis and Krestinov, both 27, will work out on new Honda bikes at the factory's training track in Simi Valley until next Thursday, when they will test the 2,030-meter track laid out by DeCoster in Glen Helen Park.
Eric Geboers, who clinched his fifth world championship two weeks ago on his home course in Namur, Belgium, will head the 40-rider field. Geboers, who won 125cc championships in 1982 and '83, the 250cc in '87 and his first 500cc in '88, also won the U. S. Grand Prix two years ago when it was held at Hollister, Calif.
The riders will practice on Aug. 25, with the first moto at 1 p.m. the following day.
SPEEDWAY BIKES--Shawn Moran led three U.S. riders into the World Finals when he won the Intercontinental Final last Sunday in Denmark. World champion Hans Nielsen of Denmark finished third, with U.S. riders Rick Miller fifth and Ronnie Correy tied for sixth. The World Finals will be on Sept. 1 at Bradford, England.
Gary Hicks of Riverside, who has been riding for Kings Lynn in the British Speedway League, returned home to ride tonight at Ascot Park's South Bay Stadium and Friday night at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
MIDGETS--U.S. Auto Club midgets and three-quarter midgets will share the program Saturday night at Ventura Raceway. The TQ will feature Gary Schroeder of Burbank, who became the winningest TQ rider in USAC history when he won his 14th main event at Ascot last month; Scott Hansen of Simi Valley, winner of the last USAC race at Ventura, and Jay Drake of Val Verde, the series leader. Sleepy Tripp, winner of seven of 28 races, is favored in the full midget 30-lap main event.
SPRINT CARS--California Racing Assn. cars and drivers will have a busy weekend with a 30-lap main event Friday night at Bakersfield Speedway in Oildale and another one Saturday night at Santa Maria Speedway. When Bob Meli won last Saturday night, it was the Temple City veteran's first victory at Ascot since 1979. . . . Mitch Culp of Rowland Heights is recuperating in Harbor General Hospital after surgery Monday for a broken back suffered during last week's Ascot time trials.
MOTORCYCLES--The final TT steeplechase of Ascot Park's long history of American Motorcyclist Assn. events will be held Saturday night for amateurs and professionals on the infield course. . . . The American Road Racing Assn. will hold the eighth round of its Formula One Grand Prix sprint series Sunday at Willow Springs Raceway. . . . The second in a series of four Trans Cal Motocross Nationals is scheduled Sunday at Sunrise Cycle Park in Adelanto. . . . The CMC night motocross season will continue Friday at Ascot Park.
VINTAGE CARS--The 40th anniversary of the Pebble Beach road races will be celebrated this weekend at Laguna Seca during the Monterey Historic Automobile races. The featured car will be the British Allard, which won at Pebble Beach in 1951 and '52. Seven races will be held on both Saturday and Sunday.
STOCK CARS--Marcus Mallett took a big step toward becoming Ascot Park's first black track champion with a come-from-behind victory last week, his seventh of the season. Sunday night, he will be back for another Winston Racing Series pro stock main event. . . . Sportsman cars of the Winston Racing Series will run Saturday night at Saugus Speedway and Cajon Speedway in El Cajon. . . . Truck pulling and monster trucks will open the Ventura Fair motorsports weekend Friday night, while a demolition derby has been added to the Sunday night program that concludes the fair's program.
DRAG RACING--Hometown favorite Lena Williams, driving a Corvette, will head a field of funny car drivers in a Summer Series race Saturday night at the Los Angeles County Raceway in Palmdale.
LAND SPEED--A world motorcycle record of 322.150 m.p.h., set by Dave Campos of Albuquerque, N. M., last month on the Bonneville Salt Flats, has been recognized by the International Motorcycle Federation (FIM). Campos rode a 23-foot long Easyriders Streamliner owned by Joe Teresi of Agoura Hills.